The problem rests in an assumption made then and often made today: Christianity can exist without the Resurrection. In other words, the Resurrection is dispensable.

Paul didn't think so. He ticked off a short list of what the faith loses if there was no Resurrection:

  • Preaching is without foundation.
  • Faith is without foundation.
  • We become false witnesses about God.
  • Our faith is worthless.
  • We are still in our sins.
  • Those who have fallen asleep in Christ (died) have perished.
  • We are to be pitied.

Quite a list.

On a hill in Athens, Paul preached his short but famous unknown god sermon. As usual, he included the resurrection of Christ. The response? A few believed, but most ridiculed him (Acts 17:32). Ridicule is the first response of doubters. Nothing has changed.

Those that don't ridicule do their best to explain away the Resurrection. They offer ideas that are more "reasonable." Ironically, the ideas are so contrived and lacking in historical integrity as to be ridiculous.

Despite the shaky nature of the theories, many have caught on.

Mostly Dead Theory

The 1987 movie Princess Bride has what must be one of the funniest lines in the movie business. The hero has been taken to Miracle Max (played by Billy Crystal) to be healed of his injuries. The hero's friends are concerned that they are too late and ask if he is dead. Max studies the lifeless form for a few moments then answers, "Well, it just so happens that your friend here is only mostly dead. There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead."1

Mostly dead? How can someone be only mostly dead? As ridiculous as it sounds, the most popular theory used to dispel the Resurrection can be called the mostly dead theory. Usually it goes by the more formal title the swoon theory.

The idea was propagated through Hugh Schonfield's 1965 book The Passover Plot. In the widely read work, Schonfield suggested that Jesus contrived to be arrested, planned to be crucified, and did so knowing that he would be taken down before the Sabbath. Instead of dying on the cross, Jesus merely swooned—he passed out. Once in the cool tomb, he revived and made his way out of the sepulchre.2

There are several variations of this theme. One is that Jesus, with the full knowledge and help of the disciples, staged the execution. Another proposes that Jesus was revived by a doctor hidden in the tomb.

Other variations exist, but all assume that Jesus did not die. This theory doesn't work for many obvious reasons. This concept is so faulty it is difficult to know where to begin.

First, the theory requires that Jesus lied about his intentions. Would Jesus have spent three years teaching a moralistic gospel and go to the cross for his beliefs if it all hinged on a lie? The notion is contrary to everything Jesus taught and to his nature as revealed in his life and the lives of his disciples.

This plot would also mean the disciples were participants or were so foolish they were repeatedly deceived before and after the Resurrection.

Not only would Jesus have had to be a grand conspirator for the Passover plot to work, but he would have had to pretend to die. He would have needed to become an actor on the cross.

Furthermore, it would be necessary for the Roman guards—men who specialized in crucifixion—to have taken Jesus down before he died. The biblical text shows the extent the soldiers went to, to make certain the two thieves died before sundown—they broke their legs, hastening death. Jesus, they determined, was already dead. It is doubtful that men who went to such extremes to make certain that those crucified with Christ died would be so sloppy as to overlook Jesus' condition.

We should remember that Jesus was pummeled with fists and rod, scourged with a whip, and forced to carry the crossbeam to Calvary, a task he couldn't finish. Then he was nailed through hands and feet and left to suffer on the cross for six hours, and finally stabbed in the side. If the swoon theory is to be believed, we must also believe that Jesus overcame all that and was strong enough to recover in the tomb, move the rock, and walk past the guards.